SHA JOY, Afghanistan – Seen through the eyes of a U.S. Army captain taking command of a forward operating base near this town, the challenges in providing security and winning over locals from the Taliban are obvious, the solutions less so.
Capt. Warren Simmons, a tall Louisianan with Charlie Company, 1st Battalion, 4th Infantry Regiment, has served in Iraq, but as he walked through the bazaar here that sells everything from cheap trinkets from Pakistan and goat meat to bomb-making components favored by the Taliban, he said of this corner of Afghanistan, “It’s a whole new ball game.”
Simmons is taking over from Capt. Bill Duncan of the battalion’s Delta Company. In the six months Duncan has been here, his company has faced its share of tense moments, including an unsuccessful attempt by the Taliban to storm the front gate of Forward Operating Base Bullard.
The upcoming weeks are expected to be punctuated by sporadic violence as insurgents mount attacks to disrupt the upcoming parliamentary elections on Sept. 18. Taliban insurgents are expected to launch attacks with rocket-propelled grenades and continue the strike through improvised explosive devices, Duncan said.
The Taliban influence in the Pashtun community of Sha Joy is pervasive. “I don’t expect there to be a lot of participation in the elections despite the heightened security,” Duncan added. “The intimidation factor among the people is huge.”
Simmons, who spent last year in Iraq, was guided through the town by Duncan, orienting the incoming captain before handing over command.
Sha Joy, meaning King Stream, is a province of 71,000 Pashtuns, mainly from the Tokhi and Haruti tribes. It is one of 11 districts that make up Afghanistan’s southern Zabul province. The area is known to be transit point for insurgent fighters and poses significant problems. It lacks stable governance, which increases the pressure on U.S. and NATO soldiers here.
“The current leadership is approaching a situation of no confidence with any of the local supporters and conceding control to the shadow government of the Taliban,” said Army Maj. Michael Sieber, an expert on insurgency in the region.
Simmons and his troops say they understand the challenges, which range from basic needs of the people, to government corruption and the Taliban influence.
Perhaps their only obvious allies are the elementary-age children, who aren’t as influenced by the Taliban. They run to the soldiers in the marketplace asking for candy and shaking hands with the troops. Young Pashtun girls, many wearing red lipstick, painted black liner around the eyes and dressed in beautiful colorfully sequined dresses, watch curiously as the soldiers passed by.
Tela Mohammad, the top police sergeant from the Sha Joy Afghan National Police, met the troops with several other officers in the center of town. He understands firsthand the threats made by the Taliban. He has had five attempts on his life. He is one of the few police officials in southern Afghanistan who has not quit after Taliban threats.
“I believe in what I’m doing for my district,” he said, through an interpreter. “I know that one day the Taliban may kill me but that will be up to God. Many of us don’t want the [Taliban] in power. We will stand up to them as long as we have the support we need. I still have hope.”
Sara A. Carter is The Washington Examiner’s national security correspondent. E-mail her at email@example.com.